Monday, December 31, 2018

Get Your Hands on Some Tormented Artifacts! (Especially if You're a LARPer)

The Internet is full of crafty people who make strange, unusual, striking, and downright awesome stuff. The problem is that most of the time you only find them by accident. You happen to be scrolling through a group you don't go to much, or a friend shares a link, or the random numbers of the algorithm give you a brief glimpse at someone's work, and show you a door you could step through if you were intrigued enough.

Today, I'd like to be that door for folks who haven't heard of Tormented Artifacts.

Seriously, step through already! There's all kinds of goodies in there.

What Is Tormented Artifacts?

Tormented Artifacts is the place where you can get work by crafter Dmitri Arbacauskas, who makes some lovely, high-quality stuff. Not only that, but he makes unusual pieces that you won't typically find outside of a convention (and what's even better, he'll make custom adjustments to ensure his customers are happy with their order, though there may be a few extra bucks tacked on for additional materials, efforts, etc.).

Seriously, LOOK at this thing!
While there are plenty of fun accessories for those among us who like to stand out from the general populace, Dmitri's work is particularly good for folks out there who enjoy LARPing. From body braces, to hand wraps, to masks, to pouches, his leather is durable, high-quality, and formed with skill. Additionally, you can get pretty much any sort of symbol, crest, or unique marker burned into it, if you can provide the artist with something to work off of.

You get what you pay for when it comes to this artist, which is why I would strongly suggest everyone out there who wants that memorable piece for their character (or just a durable, everyday accessory that will be with you for years to come), that you check out Tormented Artifacts today.

I did, and I'm very pleased with the results.

And if you're looking for some other folks you may not have come across, you should also check out:

The former is more about armor, weapons, and other boffer accessories, while the latter is a costuming resource I recommend everyone know about.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Remember, small businesses are always there for our hobby, so show them some love and spread the word!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, my Gamers page, or stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio. You could also head over to My Amazon Author Page to get some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, remember that you can tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar

The undead plague appears to have been contained, for the time being, but Foxglove Manor is a problem beyond the powers of Sandpoint's heroes to cleanse on their own. They decided to venture south to Magnimar to enlist the help of a priest, but also to investigate the strange letters found in the den of the creature that had once been Aldern Foxglove. Something is brewing in Magnimar... but what?

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane
- Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry
- Chapter 14: The Taking of Fort Rannick
- Chapter 15: Water Over The Dam
- Chapter 16: Mad Lovers, And Lost Captains
- Chapter 17: The March of The Giants
- Chapter 18: The Taking of Jorgenfist
- Chapter 19: The Secrets Beneath Sandpoint
- Chapter 20: At The Gates of The Runeforge
- Chapter 21: Storming The Halls of Evocation
- Chapter 22: The Bowels of Necromancy's Tomb
- Chapter 23: The End of Runeforge
- Chapter 30: The Fall of Karzoug

All caught up? Good... now, on with the story...

Corruption in Magnimar

The big city... where the horizon is wide, and the CRs are high.
After a brief stop to let Sheriff Hemlock know what's happening, and to make sure Chikara knows the danger hasn't passed yet, they mounted up for the brief ride south to Magnimar. The city of statues, Magnimar was a place of wealth, sophistication, and history. A place where no one, not Zhakar with his twisted iron gauntlet, Thok with his heavy shoulders and strange accent, Zordlan with his inhuman features, or Mirelinda and her belts of jingling coins drew so much as a second glance from most people.

Which was for the best. Hunters don't want to draw the attention of their prey.

The first order of business was to seek aid from the Church of Desna. Zordlan sought out the church, explaining the esoteric nature of what lurked in the basement of Foxglove Manor. He told them how it had been beaten, but that it would regain its power if it was not exorcised. While he talked with the holy men, Zhakar and Thokk reconnoitered the town house where Aldern had been living for the past several years. If there was going to be a clue about what bizarre scheme the young nobleman had been involved in, that was where they would find it.

Stalkers and Skinsaws

I figured he'd have been able to afford better than this.
Once everyone had come together again, they agreed that the smart thing to do was to breech the estate, and find out what there was to be found out. So, while taking care not to look either too suspicious or too heavily armed, they ducked behind the hedges, and slipped Aldern's key in the lock. As the door creaked open, though, they smelled something. Beneath the dust and disuse there was a sickly odor... something corrupt. Something wrong.

The door had barely closed at their backs when they saw a figure through a doorway. It looked like Aldern, but off somehow; as if his face were covered in mud, or heavy makeup. They had barely taken a step toward the figure, when another leaped from the shadows of a nearby room. It was like a twin to the first figure, but as they looked at him his face ran in rivulets, his features twisting and weeping away as the face sloughed off. Beneath was only a blank canvas of whorls and callouses, breath hissing through the slits that may have been nostrils as it brought steel to bear.

With the second figure rushing into the fray, there was no time to let surprise dictate the battle. Thok had left his spear behind in the close confines of the city, and he drew the hand-and-a-half sword he'd slung from his back, tossing the scabbard away as he traded blows with the melting horror that had rushed him from the shadows. Zhakar batted away the blade from the second creature, the spikes of his gauntlet shrieking as he reached for his short blade. Zordlan danced around the strewn furniture, seeking advantage while staying out of the thing's grasp.

The Faceless Stalkers were more than disturbing foes... if they laid their touch upon you, they could drain away your very life essence!

Her dark complexion going pale, Mirelinda stepped back from the fray, snatching the thin, bone wand from up her sleeve. A flick of her wrist sent jets of fire bursting along the hard knobs of the creatures' flesh, drawing thin whines of pain from their mouthless heads. Steel clashed, and black ichor flowed down Zordlan's blade as it slammed through one of the Stalkers from behind. Before it could turn to take vengeance, Zhakar smashed his fist into the side of its head, his gauntlet crushing the skull into pulp and fragments. Nearby, Bostwick attempted to distract the final foe, flanking it to buy Thok the opening he needed. Thok raised his sword over his head, gritting his teeth as the creature slammed a blow into his chest. He snarled, bringing the blade down and hacking deep into its body. Black ichor spurted, and it fell to the floor, twitching before it died.

Panting and bloodied, the companions paused to listen. No more enemies materialized from the darkness. Communicating in silence, Zhakar and Thok formed a hunter's pair, each covering the other. Bostwick snuck ahead, his small size and light frame making him all but unnoticeable. Zordlan brought up the rear, his rapier idly shifting like a restless serpent as he guarded Mirelinda's back.

They found no more foes, but they did find more papers. Letters written to Aldern, and sealed with a bizarre symbol. Also mentions of what sounded like a cult... and most importantly, a location of where one could go to find more members. People who had dedicated themselves to the deranged worship of Father Skinsaw, and who sought to set a light not just to Sandpoint, but the very foundations of Magnimar as well!

The True Face of The Blades

The clues found in the townhouse pointed to a sawmill on the docks. One that was easy to find, and which was also running with a full crew to judge from the sound. The front door, such as it was, had been locked. There was a lower door, though, and one out of sight to viewers on the street. It was locked, but hammering on it did bring someone.

I am just getting the strangest sense of deja vu here.
The man at the door seemed like a typical, workaday laborer. Shouting over the grinding wheels inside, he demanded to know the business of the motley group of strangers. While Zhakar tried to convince him they were there on behalf of Foxglove, the man simply wasn't buying it. That was when something crawled up Zhakar's spine; a sense of a familiar evil he had encountered before. In that moment, he could practically smell the darkness this man had dipped his soul in; a darkness more than mere, human wickedness.

Zhakar lashed out, driving a blow into the man's mid-section. For a moment he wasn't sure that his senses had led him correctly, but when the man raised his head, a madness gleamed in his gaze; the glazed, feral expression that proved his workman's manner had simply been another mask. He drew a pair of wicked war razors, and with a bloody smile leaped to attack.

The door was a bottleneck, but several more hammer blows drove the man to his knees, and the door was breached. Other workmen had taken notice of the scuffle, despite the noise, and they had taken a moment to don crazed hoods with a single, bulging, red eye. Symbols of Father Skinsaw, jagged and taut, they showed their true, murderous faces of his devotees.

Bostwick dashed over the narrow walkways with no difficulty, his fists smashing bone and bruising muscle as he slipped past the slashing razors. Zordlan contained the walkway, ensuring that the masked men couldn't mount an offense that would overwhelm his companions. Thok drew his bow, ignoring the roaring fury of the gears and sending shafts into any who wore one of the wicked hoods. Several fell into the grinding gears below, gone without so much as a chance to scream.

All The Way To The Top

The workers at the lowest level were far from the only ones in the mill, and all of them wore the same, deranged masks as their fellow cult members. All of them were scythed down, going to see what reward their Skinsaw Man gave to those who had done the dying rather than the killing.

But it wasn't until they reached the final level that they found something truly disturbing. A small room covered in bizarre prayers written in blood, all of them glorifying a bloody-mouthed god of murder. At first the room seemed empty, as well... but just as Thok turned to say there was no one there, something struck him, and sent him sprawling.

Who the hell? Piss off, ghost!
Standing in the room, the curtain of invisibility torn away, was a tall, powerfully-built man. With a gleaming buckler in one hand, and a blade in the other, there is something disturbing in his smile. A glimmering of someone whose madness was no less pronounced than his followers', but simply better hidden.

It couldn't hide from Zhakar, though. Seeing his friend bleeding and wounded, the head of this cult standing over him, a change flickered across his face. Something seemed to fill him, and he rushed forward. There were no battle cries, no threats... just the eerie silence of judgment, and the pounding of his boots.

Zhakar attacked like a man indifferent to his own wounds, as long as he slew his foe. His blade driving like a nail, his arm like a hammer, he plunged in past the man's defenses again and again. The figure's blood ran red, and though the man landed a blow or two of his own, Most of the gouges simply scraped away Zhakar's skin to reveal that smooth coating of steel just beneath. Thok drew himself to his feet, his sword joining his friend's as they backed the man further against the wall, denying him a chance to escape, or a chance to reach their other companions. For a moment it seemed like the cult's leader might try to flee, but then he gasped, and his eyes went dark. Zhakar held him for a moment, then dropped his body to the ground. His black hand was slick with blood, his sword wet from where it had pierced the man's heart.

Zordlan sheathed his rapier, and began a quick inventory of the room as the others regrouped. Zhakar leaned against the wall like a man trying to find his equilibrium after a storm-tossed time at sea, the rents in his skin slowly closing over. Thok clapped him on the shoulder, speaking softly in Hallit before cutting a piece of the dead man's tunic to wipe away the blood dripping from his friend's weapon.

That was when they heard a curse from Zordlan.

The dead man on the floor may have attacked them first. He may have been a madman, and a head of a cult dedicated to murder and torture. He may even have had a hand in the crimes of Aldern Foxglove, according to some of the notes in the bloodstained journal he kept. But he was also a judge, and one of great repute within the city.

Could things get worse for our heroes? Find out on the next Table Talk installment where they face the fallout, and uncover even deeper plots among the spires and shadows of Magnimar!

For more of my work, head over to my Vocal archive, check out my Gamers page, and give some love to Dungeon Keeper Radio! And if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Every little bit helps!

Monday, December 24, 2018

4 Tools To Help You Control Your Dice At The Table

There are few things more annoying than your dice making a break for it when you're in the middle of a tense situation. Whether your dice go wild, knocking over PC and monster minis on the map, or they fall off the table entirely, leading to the whole table shining their cell phones down into the shadows while you try to retrieve your fallen soldier, that can break the spell you're all collectively weaving.

Maybe you don't have a lot of room at your gaming table, or maybe you just want a neat, clean solution to keep your dice on their best behavior. These are the solutions I've found that work, and which can easily become a part of your regular gaming arsenal.

#1: Dice Cup

As opposed to a cup of dice, which is a totally different thing.
The dice cup might be one of the oldest known gaming accessories, next to dice themselves. Simple and straightforward, you toss your dice in, give it a shake, then upend the cup over the table. No dice go flying, and you can usually roll all your attacks in a round with a single pound. If you really want to save time, toss in your damage dice along with the d20.

If you have a bunch of old games on your shelf (particularly Yahtzee), you can likely scrounge the dice cup out of there and put it to use. Or, if you don't mind going super cheap, you can just use a hard, plastic cup from your kitchen (and if you're crafty you can glue some felt to the inside, and put a band of leather around the top for softer, smoother rolling). Even if you're not crafty, though, you can get a cheap dice cup for $6 or so. The one I'm currently rocking came with the Wiz Dice Cup of Wonders, which gives you a dice cup, and seven complete sets of dice for $12. Would highly recommend for anyone looking to kill two birds with one stone.

#2: Brick Roller

No, I didn't know these were called bricks, either.
If you've ever bought a new set of dice at your friendly local gaming store, then you're familiar with these clear, plastic brick cases. They're convenient for carrying a single set of dice, and you've probably used the clear plastic part to represent flying creatures a time or two on your battle mat (and if you haven't, well, there's a life hack for you). However, if you need a quick and easy way to roll your dice without risking them going too far, you can turn the brick into a simple die roller. Just empty it, put the die you want to roll inside, and close the brick. Voila!

I've used this trick in the past, but mostly I just used the d20, and rolled my damage dice out on the table. Fewer problems, but inconvenient if you like to use multiple sets of dice for a single character. If you don't have any bricks laying around, relax, we live in the future. You can order them online! Or, you know, just buy a few more dice sets...

#3: Dice Tower

Brings "keeping" your dice in order to a whole, new level.
I mentioned back in Towering Defenses Against My Bad Rolls that I'd been building some dice towers of my own. And, generally speaking, I've found that they're particularly useful for shaking off the bad juju when it comes to avoiding a slew of natural 1's. However, if you're going to go that route, it's helpful to build a dice catcher into the base of your tray. I put the blueprints and videos I used in that other entry, if you want to try your hand at making your very own tower.

If you're not feeling crafty (or you want something tough enough to stuff into your travel bag on your way out the door), then models like the Black Tower pictured above (which has dice storage in the base) will run you a couple of Jacksons. Or, if you're shopping on a budget and you don't want the spinning rims and awesome exterior, then a simple design like the Litko Dice Tower will certainly get the job done.

Handy, fun, and neat, you can roll as many dice as quickly as you want without having to police them back up once they stop moving. Even better, they don't take up anywhere near as much space at the table as you might think.

#4: Dice Tray

May the All-Father's Eye grant you battle luck!
A dice tray is, perhaps, one of the most ubiquitous solutions to the problem of your dice rolling further than you'd like. Not only that, but they are one of the easiest things to make for yourself. The first thing you need to do is go to your local craft store. Find where they keep the small, wooden boxes with slide-off lids. Buy it. Boom, you now have a dice tray!

If you want to spruce it up a bit, get some felt and glue it to the insides. This ensures a smoother roll, and it stops your dice from rattling quite so hard. If you're of a mind, you can also accessorize the outside with stain, paint, or even taking a wood-burning kit to the surface to make it a one-of-a-kind piece. Best of all, the lid lets you toss your dice inside, shut it, and put it in your bag without worrying about your stuff going all over the place.

However, if you want something fancy like Odin's Battlefield pictured above, there are plenty of options out there. But, as always, if you want something cheaper that will get the job done, then a folding leather dice tray is a solid choice, too. But if you go with either of those options, you'll still need your trusty dice bag to get your weapons from point A to point B.

If you enjoyed this piece, then you should also check out Need Cheap Minis? SCS Direct Has You Covered! to make sure you never run out of monsters at your table.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post! Hopefully your December holiday of choice finds you well, and you have plenty of time to rest, relax, and roll some dice. If you'd like to see more of my work then stop by my Vocal archive, my Gamers page, and stop by Dungeon Keeper Radio to hear me put some snazzy shows together with fellow players and dungeon masters.

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to help support my work, tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Lastly if you'd like to check out any of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, just head over to My Amazon Author Page.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Reluctant Barbarian

"Look, fellas, is this really necessary?" Lunk asked, holding his big hands out to show they were empty. "I get you're mad, but we're grown men. Let's just pull a few pints, and see if we can figure this out. My treat, what do you say?"

"I'll tell you what I say," Crandle snarled, snatching his dagger off of his belt. "I say the time for talk is past."

Crandle strode across the room, his face twisted in fury, but Lunk didn't seem to notice. A shiver went through him, and a low moan like a child afraid of punishment slipped out of his mouth. When Crandle swung his blade, though, Lunk caught his hand. Crandle grunted, then screamed as his knuckles cracked like walnuts in the iron grip. The dagger fell to the floor, and a hammer blow drove Crandle to the ground after it. Teeth bounced along the boards, and blood pooled on the wood.

The eyes that looked up at the others were the same blue as Lunk's, but they were colder. Harder. He bared his teeth, and stepped over Crandle's body. He balled his hands into fists, the heavy cords of muscle straining in his forearms.

"I tried," Lunk said, his voice straining like he was losing a battle against the tide. "But you just... wouldn't... listen."

There were no more words after that. Only shouts of pain, and the sounds of broken bones.

Don't poke the bear. He might poke back.

The Reluctant Barbarian

When most people think of barbarians, they probably think of iconic examples like Conan, or even Kull. Characters who are decisive, and who pit themselves against their opponents with everything they have. However, there are some barbarians who may try to avoid conflict. Who try to keep the whirling frenzy of their Rage buried, only tapping into it as a last resort, or letting it free when they cannot contain it any longer.

That's how you wind up with a reluctant barbarian.

The key to this character is to decide what form their Rage takes, and to then ask what alternatives to their Rage they try first. For example, your barbarian might be a stealthy hunter, trying to sneak past foes, or to take them unawares hoping that striking the first blow might mean combat is over too quickly to awaken the beast within. Alternatively, your barbarian might rely on diplomacy to try to find mutual ground with their foes, settling differences through talking over a beer. Or they might use intimidation to frighten opponents into backing down so it's not even necessary to draw a weapon.

However, sooner or later, the cage is going to open up. That's the whole point of this concept, after all; what fun is Jekyll if Hyde doesn't put in at least a few appearances? That's why you need to ask why your barbarian is reluctant, and what they're trying to hold back.

As a for instance, was your barbarian raised in a cult, their body and soul offered to a grotesque demon lord to use as a vessel so that, when they Rage, they grow horns, thick skin, and spines, becoming an avatar of that monster? Was your barbarian a real hellraiser in their youth, and now they're horrified by the person they used to be, so they're reluctant to give into those instincts that let them write their reputation in blood? Or did they make a deal with something, and while that something kept them alive, it still wants to come out to play when the steel rings, and their blood pounds?

What form your Rage takes (if you're looking for examples, check out my 50 Shades of Rage post) is one of the biggest factors in who your barbarian is. But why they would try to keep it hidden, or tightly controlled, also says a lot about them. So keep that in mind, and ask how it's going to create a more unique story.

And remember, the goal is not to never use your Rage. That's no fun. But it's to save it so that when the eyes go green and the music starts playing, we all know that the Other Guy is about to wreck the house.

For more handy tips, don't forget to check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a game master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, December 17, 2018

No One Cares How You Game At Your Table (So Just Play The Way You Want)

As I've alluded to before, I spend a lot of time on social media and on various boards talking about games. I share my work, I answer questions when I feel my knowledge is worthwhile, and I do my best to help where I can. However, I've noticed this thing that happens a lot in the digital world of game conversations, and it confuses me.

The scenario goes like this. Someone, either in the main body of a post or in a comment, will talk about how their table has changed a particular rule, or about how they would rule something as a dungeon master. Then someone else points out that their house rule, or their ruling, is not in-line with what's actually in the book, or the official errata from the game's creator. This makes it a house rule, rather than a by-the-book ruling.

Then a huge argument breaks out.

Hey, I didn't start this flame war!
Now, I'm going to say something that shouldn't be all that controversial; pointing out that something is a house rule is not the same thing as saying someone is playing the game wrong. It is simply an acknowledgement that the rules at your table, and the rules in the book as they're written, are different. That's it. It is as close to an objective fact as you can get in the world of RPGs.

If someone has a problem with the way you run things at your table, then you need to ask yourself two very important questions:

- Question #1: Do you value this person's input?
- Question #2: Is this person sitting at your table?

Assuming the answer to both of these is no, you should ask yourself a third question... why do you care?

It's Your Table, Play It Your Way

As long as there have been RPGs, there have been players arguing over how to play the games. However, I can guarantee you that no one out there is upset knowing that somewhere in the world there is a table playing their game, breaking all the established rules, and having fun doing it.

So why are you wasting your time defending yourself, and what makes you happy? Instead, take that energy, and plan your next game session with it!

Stupid rules lawyer, eh? I'll show him how this rules lawyer builds a kickass dungeon!
There is no wrong way to run a game. If you run all the rules as they exist in the book, and that makes you happy, then do that! If you change up your players' hit points and race bonuses, but the rest is mostly okay, then do that instead! If you overhaul huge portions of the rule book, and that is just fine with your table, then shine on you mad bastard!

Curmudgeons have been with us since the start of the hobby, whether they take the form of by-the-book purists who prosthelytize theirs as the one-true-way to play, or anarchists who claim that no rules matter and it's all about your creativity. There are hundreds of different approaches, and if you have found the one that works for you, then you (and the rest of your table) are the only ones who have to enjoy it. And if someone fundamentally disagrees with you about something like this, that's great, because it lets you know not to invite them to your table.

Remember that this holiday season as we all unwrap our new dice and start planning our campaigns. Because the phrase "house rule" isn't derogatory, you are free to change whatever you want, and if someone who doesn't have an invitation to your table has a problem with it, then you can keep on scrolling and leave them shouting into the void. You've got a game to play.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it helps some folks out there when it comes to perspective, and remembering that you don't have to engage with things if they aren't helping you. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or just go to my Gamers page for all my tabletop articles. You should also head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I get together with other gamers to make videos for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to throw a small tip my way every month. Or, if you're looking for something to satisfy your hunger for books, you could stop by My Amazon Author Page where you'll find all kinds... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Unique Currencies Can Add A Lot To Your Game World

Hargrave sat nervously at the table in the rear of the tavern. He'd been told to wait, and wait he had, nursing a tarred jack of sour wine and trying not to grimace. When the man in the black hood entered, Hargrave pretended not to notice him. The man didn't speak, but Hargrave told him what he'd seen in a low whisper. When he'd told everything he knew, the man nodded, stood, and went the way he'd come. Sitting on the scarred tabletop, gleaming dully in the firelight, was a single, thick coin. Heavy as only gold was heavy, Hargrave saw the profile of an old man in a tall hat, and smiled.

Golden bishops were rare in this quarter, and now that he had one, he could afford to drink something a little sweeter than this cup of vinegar.

A Gilded Wraith? Friend, I'd sell you both my sisters, if you had one of those to pay.

What's Currency Like In Your Setting?

Most fantasy games out there use a pretty familiar system of metal coding to determine the value of a currency; copper, silver, and gold. Sometimes you use platinum for something even more valuable than gold, and sometimes you throw in weird metals like electrum, but those Olympic metals are the baseline for most in-game currency. And why not? They're easy to remember, and they happen to correspond to a system we're all pretty familiar with.

But if you've been looking for a way to add a touch more detail to your world, consider adding a few details to the money your players see, handle, and spend.

A golden mother? Where did you say you were from again, stranger?
Every kingdom and country is going to have their own, unique currency, even if they're made of the same material and have roughly equivalent values. After all, gold is gold, and you can still buy a fresh sword and new armor with it no matter how old it is. But can the money in someone's pocket give you clues about who they are? Or tip you off about something you should have noticed?

For example, say your party has just been given a job, and were paid up-front to take care of a small matter. Some might just tuck the coins away sight unseen, but one party member might notice the coins are stamped with a peacock and an elephant. Not only are these coins from far away, they also come from the nation this country is currently embroiled in a cold war with. While it will spend just as well as any other gold, it might draw suspicion, and get you marked as enemy agents. It might also tip the party off that their employer is either very far-traveled, or may be embroiled in deeper affairs than they can see.

Alternatively, say that you see someone paying for services with very old coins. Not just decades, but centuries old. Gold is still gold, but that minting date, the stamp, and the wear indicates that these coins likely came from a treasure hoard, rather than from daily labor. Where did it come from? An old pot dug up from a field that is unknowingly atop an ancient ruin? Found in the shallows, washed up from the sea? Or is this person a strange, fey creature in disguise who doesn't know that this gold is suspicious to those looking for such details?

You don't have to change up the money people are using by switching from copper, silver, and gold to magic gems, or trading the bones of particular beasts (though feel free to do that if you want to). You just need to fill in the details of what makes the coins from one place different from the coins from somewhere else.

Themes, Appearance, and Style

The other day I was browsing, and saw a conversation about currency. One of the suggestions was to make coins based off of chess pieces... and that is a perfect example of how you can craft a small detail that immediately makes your setting feel that much more real.

Coppers are called pawns, while a five-piece would be a rook. Silver knights are worth ten pawns each, and golden bishops are the most expensive currency most are likely to see in their lives. Platinum queens might be carried by the very rich, while a king is less of a coin, and more a measure of wealth used to pay bills by governments, and families of extreme wealth. The kind of money you'd use to cover an army of 10,000 soldiers, or to pay a debt for that season's grain purchase.

You could even use the coins as pieces, gambling with them in a game of strategy... long as you have a king stand-in.
Those coins immediately give this nation a personality, and allow you to start making flavorful associations.  It also uses a system that's simple to learn, and if you want to have some extra fun, you can use physical chess pieces as a way to keep track of bennies in your game. More about how that might work in If You Haven't Tried A Bennies System, You Should Give It A Shot.

There are all sorts of hierarchies you could use to tie your currency to the themes of a given country to make their money feel more unique. You might have a system based on animals, with gilded lions at the top, and copper hares at the bottom. You could have coins that look more like poker chips, with the suits just as important as the metal in determining their worth in the Four-Winds Nation. You could even have coins that feature monsters, gods, and heroes if you want to put a little lore into each transaction, or give players a hint that certain coins are out-of-the-ordinary, and might be a clue to something deeper.

And that's before you even get into strange and unique coins, like the Coin of The Realm, which legally excuses the bearer of any crime short of regicide, and is detailed in the supplement A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them) from Azukail Games.

It's Just One More Option

Since I know there will be some DMs out there who feel this is somehow calling them out for not paying attention to which imaginary figures have their imaginary portraits stamped on imaginary coins that only exist as a metric for who can buy the most powerful imaginary stuff, let me be clear. If you have no interest in putting extra detail into the coins, gems, or other currency your party comes across, that's fine. You aren't committing some grievous sin of world building.

However, it is one more aspect of the world that you can use to get information to your players, and to make the world they're in feel that much more unique.

That's all for this Fluff installment. Hopefully it got a few gears turning out there! If you'd like to see more of my work then head over to my Vocal archive, or click my Gamers page just to see my tabletop stuff. You should also check out Dungeon Keeper Radio, a YouTube channel where I get together with other gamers to make videos for dungeon masters and players alike.

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Lastly, if you'd like to get your hands on some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, you should head over to My Amazon Author Page!

Monday, December 10, 2018

If You Don't Want The Players To Win, Get Out of The DM Chair!

There is something satisfying about victory when it comes after the end of a lot of hard effort. When your last spell tips the balance, your final sword stroke lays low the villain, or that saved-for-a-rainy-day enchanted arrow finds its mark, that swelling feeling of satisfaction can cement that campaign forever into the stories you tell when you reminisce against games of yesteryear.

He thought he had me, but he didn't know I had one more shocking grasp left for the day...
As a dungeon master, your job is to set a challenge for your players. You pick the monsters, the arenas, the villains' spell sets, the traps, and all the other aspects so that your characters can hack, slash, dodge, tuck, roll, steal, fast talk, and blast their way from where they are, to the end of the story. However, there is something a lot of dungeon masters out there seem to forget... namely that if your players don't succeed, then the story doesn't move forward! Therefore, in order to actually finish the campaign, part of you has to actually want them to come out on top!

But I Don't Want To Just GIVE It To Them!

As I acknowledged in the beginning, your job as the DM is to set your players a challenge. They need to fight the minotaur, rescue the baron's son, find the spy, what have you. However, whatever task you set your party to achieving, you need to make sure you give them the tools to actually succeed. Otherwise you're watching them bring a knife to a gun fight, and folding your arms, claiming no responsibility for what's going on here.

Even when you're the one who gave the other side guns in the first place.
That's the thing that a lot of dungeon masters forget; they are largely responsible for what's going on, here. Yes the dice and chance play into it, and the players' actions can take you down strange and unexpected paths, but when something skews wrong, it's you who chose to include that element.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about.

You're running your campaign (either pre-written, or one that you made yourself), and the only way into your villain's stronghold is through a subterranean warren that's festooned with traps. There are guillotines, drop-away floors, crushing walls, spiked pits, poison darts, explosive runes... everything you can think of, it's in there. That sounds cool... but what do you do if your party has no one with the ability to disable those traps? Especially if a lot of them out-and-out require a special ability to turn them off?

Give you another scenario. Say that your villain has taken the time to properly prepare themselves, laying protective magics over themselves. These protections make them practically immune to weapon attacks, and even most spells, but those protections could be peeled away by a spellcaster with the ability to cast dispel magic... the problem is the party is light on casters, and the ones it does have do not have that spell.

So what do you do in these scenarios?

This is not a rhetorical question, either. Because if your reaction is to shrug and say something along the lines of, "They should have played different characters/spent their skills differently/bought the right magic items," then you are ducking your responsibility in this mess. You are the one who chose to present these scenarios, knowing full well that the group you are all telling the stories about cannot make it through this setup as it's presented. And if you're okay with them hammering themselves to paste against an obstacle they are unlikely (or even unable) to overcome, then you have missed the point of the game.

You're all on the same side. And if all the PCs die here, then the story might very well die with them.

Match The Party To A Challenge They Can Beat

There are, essentially, two ways to go about this. The first is to alter the challenges in the game to fit the capabilities of your party. The second is to alter the capabilities of your party in order to overcome the challenge.

The second one, in case you're wondering, is a whole lot easier nine times out of ten.

But you may need calculators for either approach.
Let's take these approaches, and apply it to the death battle with the wizard. You initially have set it up in such a way that this bad guy is layered in protections, and can now blast away at the PCs without any real worry about their abilities. That is clearly a fight tilted in favor of the bad guy, if the PCs don't have some way to strip away those protections, or reach past them.

If you're changing up the encounter to fit your party's capabilities, then you should do away with the, "Impossible to hit the bad guy unless you dispel 4 or more of his 12 protection spells," scenario. Instead, ask what your party is really good at, and throw them a bone while still making stuff challenging.

For instance, if you have a lot of combat brutes, then have the villain summon legions of undead monsters, or outsiders from beyond the veil, and turn it into a big arena battle. The goal is still the same (stop the wizard), but now instead of contending with a single impossible-to-hit enemy, the party now has to try to avoid getting overwhelmed by the bad guy's minions, while still closing the gap to come to grips with him in a meaningful way. This would allow your melee brutes to go toe-to-toe with real threats, it would give your archer the pick of targets (and allow them to try to spoil spells by firing perfectly-timed arrows at the villain), and if you have buffers like a bard or a cleric in the party, they could really let their powers roar.

By doing this you maintain the challenge of the encounter, but you've turned it into something where everyone can participate and have fun, rather than something that feels they're being punished because no one played a wizard.

Not everyone loves them, after all.
But what about the second method? Okay, so you're sticking with the magically-warded wizard who's blasting away at the party. The problem is that the one method of success that works in this scenario is not something the party can do. So you need to give them the capacity to do it, at least in this one fight.

There are all kinds of ways you can do this. The easiest way is to provide your party with powerful magic items that can mimic the necessary spells a handful of times, which will work the same way as if they had an arcane caster trying to crack open the villain's Russian doll of magical protections. It could be a handful of scrolls inked by potent wizards of years past, it could be a magic staff taken from the villain's own lair (which is a fun bit of irony), or it could just be something they were given by a helpful NPC. You could even include an NPC who acts as the monkey wrench on the players' behalfs. Maybe it's the baron's son, being held in a cage, and he's saved up every ounce of magic he has to cast this one spell to help his rescuers. Maybe it's the sage the party had to escort through the tunnels, acting as a kind of payload to make the final fight that much easier, even if previous fights were made harder because they had to protect him.

The point is that you recognize early on that your party lacks something they will fundamentally need, so you give them something that will allow them to continue the story, and move forward instead of running face first into a wall, and then battering at it until they are slain by a rock slide.

Their Victory is Your Victory, Too

When you sit down to run a game, your goal is to tell a story using the main characters the players provide. There will be hardship, there will be bad luck, and sometimes things you thought were going to be a challenge will be breezed right past due to clever thinking, smart tactics, or just having the right die roll for the right occasion.

If you're ever setting out an encounter, though, and your thoughts are, "This will show them," or, "I'd like to see them beat this one," take a moment, and ask what happens if your encounter kills them. You've just slain your protagonists in mid-story. How does that help you?

Seriously, think it through.
A campaign can survive an occasional death. It can even survive cast changes as players bring in new characters when the old ones finish their arcs. But if everyone dies (or worse, just gets tired of the slog your game becomes when they don't bring the one solution to the problem), then you have no more story to tell.

And you shouldn't be okay with that. The players want to see the end of your campaign, and you should want them to get there. Work with them to make that happen!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! If you'd like to see more of my work, then head over to Vocal, or check out my Gamers archive to see all my tabletop content. Alternatively, you can pop over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I get together with other gamers to make videos for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! If you'd like to help support me and my work, you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a monthly patron! And lastly, if you're looking to pick up something to read, you should have over to My Amazon Author Page where you can get all my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Friday, December 7, 2018

5 Handy Healing Items You Should Be Aware Of (In Pathfinder)

Staying on your feet long enough to finish the fight is a challenge, even for groups that field a cleric, warpriest, or oracle. That goes double if you find yourself in a time crunch, or can't take a moment to catch your breath and refresh your spells between battles. While most of us carry a plethora of wands to take care of incidental damage when the dust settles, and holdout potions for when we really need a quick infusion, there are a lot of wonderful, mystical solutions out there you should keep an eye out for... other than that impossibly expensive ring of regeneration, that is.

Things like...

#1: Aegis of Recovery

Hold person you say? Hold on, I got a bonus for that.
The aegis of recovery, located in Ultimate Equipment, is an item that tends to be undervalued. Its main function is that it provides a +2 bonus on saves made against a lot of ongoing effects after you fail your first save. This includes against poisons, daily saves versus disease, and against spells like hold person. Where it can really be a life saver, though, is that if you're ever brought below 0 hit points the aegis crumbles to dust, and heals you for 2d8+3 points of damage. For 1,500 gold, that can pull your butt out of the fire when it matters.

There's also a greater version of this item, which provides +5 bonuses and heals you for 5d8+7 points of damage. It costs 3,750 gold, but if you find one, you may as well hang onto it. Just in case.

#2: Trollblood Elixir

Even prestidigitation can't make this taste good.
Trollblood elixir, as the name suggests, is a thick, viscous, disgusting liquid. However, it can be just the thing if you find yourself sitting next to a severed limb, or lingering on death's welcoming mat.

Found in the Giant Hunter's Handbook, trollblood elixir runs you about 4,550 gold pieces, and it's a one-shot item. However, once you finally toss it back, it gives you fast healing 5 for one minute (or the equivalent of 50 hit points worth of healing). You aren't feeling good while it does its thing, but that's a small price to pay. More important than the total amount of healing, though, it can reattach severed limbs if they've been cut off for less than an hour, which can be just what the cleric ordered if you fail the wrong save against some seriously nasty stuff at higher levels.

While not practical for cuts and scrapes, this is one of those things you either acquire just in case.

#3: Boots of The Earth

These boots were made for stomping!
One of the most ridiculously valuable items for its cost, boots of the earth are found in Inner Sea Gods. These dwarven boots have marble soles, and as a move action the wearer can plant their feet to draw strength from the earth beneath them. This grants them a +4 bonus against trip, bull rush, and reposition combat maneuvers, but more importantly it grants them fast healing 1. As long as you keep your feet planed and stay conscious, these bonuses keep going.

These boots only cost 5,000 gold pieces, and that is a steal for what they do.

#4: Gorget of Umbral Hunger

All right, it doesn't heal THAT much.
Coming in at 6,500 gold, the gorget is not a great value for your money if you're buying it in a shop. If you come across it in a treasure hoard, though, it can be something worth hanging onto. Found in Merchant's Manifest, the gorget activates when it's in an area of dim light, or darkness. It grants the wearer fast healing 1, but it can only heal 20 points of damage per day before it's exhausted.

Not ideal, but since it will heal damage from any source (unlike a lot of other items that grant you temporary fast healing but which are shut off by things like cold iron or silver), and dim light is easy enough to find, it can be useful. Maybe not as good as the other entries on the list, but worth thinking about all the same.

#5: Determination Armor

I am here to kick ass, and chew bubblegum. And I'm all out of bubblegum.
I first came across the determination armor enchantment back when it was in the Advanced Player's Guide, and it's one of those things almost no one gets to use. After all, it costs you 30,000 gold, and that's on top of the other enchantments your armor has to have. However, this enchantment gives you a once-per-day breath of life spell that goes off when you get downed.

Ask any group that needed that spell, but didn't have it, how critical this can be to stopping the tide of battle from turning against you. Now imagine having it on-hand as a get-out-of-boned-free card once per day. It's an expensive insurance policy, but one you're glad to have when you really need it.

That's all for this week's Crunch installment. Hopefully it helps some of the groups out there trying to keep their HP up so they can press on in the face of hardship! If there are any I missed (magic items specifically, not spells and class features) feel free to leave them in the comments below!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just go to my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop articles. You should also stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I get together with other gamers to make videos for players and dungeon masters alike!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron, or head over to My Amazon Author Page to buy some of my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

5 Phenomenal Authors Whose Work You Should Check Out

As anyone who reads my Monday updates knows, when I'm not giving my thoughts on improving your performance behind the DM screen, I'm typically trying to big up a signal for other creators. And since I recently released my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, I figured I'd take a moment to share with you the work of some other authors who should be on your shelf as well.

The following will be particularly useful if you're in the market for Christmas presents (and you want your friends and loved ones to do more reading), or if you've got a resolution this new year to try reading one book a month.

#1: Clinton Boomer

Seriously, why haven't you read this yet?
If you're a regular on my blog, you know that I mention Clinton a lot. He's a fellow RPG writer, and his Tumblr That Boomer Kid is chock-full of strange, dark, and bizarre ideas for your games. However, his novel The Hole Behind Midnight is a wild ride that will take you into the 25th hour. If you liked his gaming contributions, they have only barely prepared you for this book. Seriously, strap in for the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre, because you'll find all of that and more in this novel.

#2: Lauren Jankowski

For you series lovers out there, here's one to sink your teeth into.
If you're looking for a series that's both different and familiar all at the same time, then the Shape Shifter Chronicles is definitely something you should take a look at. It's got shape shifters, characters protecting the Earth, characters trying to destroy it, and a lot of solid twists and turns throughout. The series recently got a re-release, and a whole new series of covers, so if you're looking for a new book, read the preview on Sere From The Green to see if it grabs you. Then, if you like it, check out Lauren Jankowski's Amazon Author Page.

Also of note is her project Asexual Artists, which has been running for some time, and is meant to give a platform to a community of artists who are often ignored or marginalized.

#3: Megan Mackie

If you love worlds with magic and tech, you're in for a treat.
For folks who read my other blog, The Literary Mercenary, I had an interview with Megan there about her first book Finder of The Lucky Devil. In a world that combines magic and high-tech, Rune Leveau acts as a Finder for potent, and often lost things. When she's contracted by a cybernetically-enhanced corporate spy to track down a mysterious, wanted woman, things quickly go off the rails. A solid read, and the sequel The Saint of Liars is finally out! They'll keep you turning the pages, and when you have no more to turn, you'll start checking her release dates to see when the next one's coming out.

You can find all of her books, past, present, and future, on Megan Mackie's Amazon Author Page.

#4: Rick Heinz

I checked, the author DOES in fact have that coat.
If you cannot get enough of stories where the safe, sane, scientific world is peeled back by the ghoulish fingers of the dead and damned, then Rick Heinz may just be your newest favorite author. Following a man hell-bent on lifting the veil on the world of the dead, he soon finds himself caught between forces far larger than he ever suspected lurked in the world. The Seventh Age Dawn is a lot of fun, and you can find the author's other books on Rick Heinz's Amazon Author Page.

#5: K.M. Herkes

When your mid-life crisis gives you superpowers, things can get VERY weird.
We've all ready our share of superhero novels in this day and age, but K.M. Herkes puts a twist on her tales... what if you didn't develop your powers until you hit middle age? Or even older? She's got several books set in this universe, and they're unlike anything you'll read from DC or Marvel. So why not check out her book Rough Passages, or head over to K.M. Herkes Amazon Author Page to see if anything else there strikes your fancy?

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. If you check out any of the authors here, make sure you help spread the word about them, and leave reviews on their books. And, while you're at it, don't forget to stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find Crier's Knife along with a dozen other books to keep you turning pages well into the new year!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I get together with other gamers to make shows for players and dungeon masters alike! To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me, consider leaving a tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!